Yemen might bring to mind war, poverty and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. But even before the war, Yemen was rarely known for the riches that the world normally associates with Middle Eastern countries.
Our guide introduces the Yemen which has warm friendly people, the best honey and coffee in the world, almost every type of geographical terrain and has cities as ancient as time itself.
1. Sam City, Sana’a
The city is believed to have been built by Shem, son of Noah of the Ark, making it, by legend, the world’s oldest city. It is also called as ‘Sam City’ in a variation of Noah's son’s name. The city breathes rustic beauty and offers an authentic old city experience that is not planned or developed artificially.
2. Bab Al Yemen
Bab Al Yemen translates to ‘the gate of Yemen’ in English and one step through these gates into old Sana’a will transport you into a sea of beautiful mud-brick tower houses, geometrical patterned paintings, stained glass windows and a lot of friendly people who still stick to their roots and traditions.
3. Manhattan of Arabia
Old Sana’a is believed to be the place where the first ‘skyscrapers’ were built, most of which are eight to ten stories tall and made largely of mud bricks. The oldest building in Yemen is believed to have been built almost two thousand years ago.
Shibam Wadi Hadhramaut (pictured above) in Yemen is known as the 'Manhattan of Arabia'
4. Queen of Sheba
The meeting of King Solomon with the mystical Bilquis or the Queen of Sheba, who arrived with extraordinary gifts to test Solomon’s renowned intelligence and diplomacy, is documented in Persian and Ethiopian history as well as religious scriptures.
An Edward Poynter painting of Queen Sheba meeting King Solomon (shown above)
She is described as a woman of extraordinary wealth, beauty and power. Evidence hints that the kingdom of Sheba is the wealthy kingdom of Saba, which falls in modern day Marib in Yemen. The kingdom is believed to have existed from the the first millenium B.C. but collapsed around 200-300 A.D.
5. Al Saleh Mosque
Former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh who ruled for almost 33 years in Yemen, built its largest mosque called Al Saleh mosque, which was opened to the public in 2008. It cost around US$ 60 million to build and can hold around 40,000 worshippers at a time. It is also open to non-Muslim visitors outside of prayer times, provided that they are conservatively dressed and have their travel documents on them.
6. Yemeni Sidr honey
Yemen honey varieties are one of the purest, most expensive and beneficial in the world. The main variety that hails from Yemen is the Sidr honey, which is cultivated from bees feeding off the Sidr tree flowers, also called Christ’s thorn. This honey is proven to have medicinal properties for gastrointestinal problems, liver problems, infections and other such health problems. The cultivation processes in Yemen are ancient and strict resulting in pure honey. Yemeni honey cultivators do not filter out the royal jelly which makes the honey more nutritional.
7. Mocha Coffee
All of us have had the ‘Mocha’ coffee variant at least once, but people never realise that this incredibly popular coffee has its roots in the port city of Mocha in Yemen (not to be confused with the chocolate flavoured coffee). Mocha coffee is slightly acidic and is believed to be one of the first coffees to be cultivated on earth. Authentic Yemeni Mocha coffee is expensive and highly valued by coffee connoisseurs.
Jambia is a short curved double-edged blade with a handle that can be of rhino-horn, wood or other materials. Largely seen as a status symbol as well as a necessary male accessory, these blades are rarely drawn to fight. Every boy above the age of 14 gets one as a gift from his father or gets access to the family jambia, which is more of an heirloom. The jambia is worn sheathed on a belt, which is part of the Yemeni traditional dress. The material of the handle shows your wealth and social status with the rhino-horn handle being the most revered.
9. The Socotra Islands, Yemen
A natural world heritage site, the Socotra islands or Suqotra island group looks like something from a sci-fi film and is distinctly alien - a possible new planet for the next Star Wars film. Are you listening George Lucas? One-third of the flora and fauna species found here are not found anywhere else on earth. It is geologically isolated and the people speak a Semitic language called Suqotri. The archipelago is one of the natural wonders of the Middle East.
10. Rock Palace (Dar al-Hajar)
An architectural marvel, this iconic building seems to grow out of sheer rock and hence the name. It was built in the 1780's and then got converted into a summer palace for the ruling family in the 1930's. Out of the five stories, only three are completely visible above the rock while there are rooms, kitchens and facilities within the rock part of the structure. The palace is now a museum and was open to the public